Feeding the region: towards a healthy food basket for southern Africa

10 March 2015

“Roundtables are the start of discussion,” says Maud Olofsson (Minister for Enterprise and Energy from 2006 to 2011 and Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden from 2006 to 2010). “We know we can do things better – create more profitable agribusiness, use all our resources, knowledge, engagement and time. If we work hard, we can make a change for southern Africa and make a better life for our children and grandchildren. The two days have created an engagement and a vision of something better for the coming generation.”

Over 40 international and regional participants from various sectors met in Stellenbosch at the end of February for a roundtable hosted by the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) and sponsored by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation, to discuss strategic directions for agricultural transformation in southern Africa. This initiative is linked to one of the long-term STIAS research themes concerned with sustainable agro-ecosystems and the subtheme sustainable intensification of agriculture which STIAS will promote for five years under the leadership of five international fellows.

The roundtable aimed to elucidate four outcomes including a vision for agricultural transformation; the major reforms and resources required, and, a roadmap for effective implementation.

The group proposed: “A vision of agricultural intensification at multiple scales with broad stakeholder participation for food and nutritional security in southern Africa”.

The participants envisaged agriculture in the region which:

  • relies on the region’s natural, human and financial resources to create wealth and jobs, and ensure sustainable food and nutritional security;
  • allows for innovative farming models at different scales; and,
  • is competitive and integrated into the regional economy through value chains.

“This implies a transformation of agriculture to respond to the challenges posed by rapid urban population growth, soil fertility decline, limited water resources, climate change, and weak infrastructure and institutions,” says Eugene Terry.

Such transformation would require:

  • targeted investments for human capital, innovation, infrastructure and institutional capacity enhancement;
  • evidence-based and inclusive policy development, practice and evaluation;
  • strategic, collaborative partnerships reflective of gender and the region’s human diversity; and,
  • an enabling environment to attract young women and men to invest their energy and talents into profitable, sustainable agriculture.

“Without investing in people nothing will work or change,” says Lucas Gakale. “The current regional and national policy pronouncements on agricultural research and development are not matched by adequate investments on the ground.”

Among many reforms and resources needed for transformation the following key ones were highlighted:

  • Policy – the urgent need to formulate and harmonise policies to promote intra-regional trade and resource sharing.
  • Training – the re-orientation of agricultural education to respond to challenges. More needs to be done to design programmes that improve the quality and direction of both higher-level and technical training.
  • Finance – public financing is required to enhance and revitalise the degraded natural resource base (e.g. improving soil fertility and natural ecosystems) and improving access to infrastructure and technology. Southern African countries should provide more investment and be more accountable for R&D programmes that improve access to high-quality inputs and established technologies. Donor-supported programmes and projects should be regionally/nationally owned and integrated with regional/national programmes.
  • Data – evidence-based policies should be based on reliable, up-to-date data.
  • Stakeholder engagement – agricultural development practitioners should engage farmers and all other stakeholders involved in value-chain activities. The role of traditional leaders as stakeholders and leaders of change was also recognised.

“Past experience indicates a tendency towards planning in pilot-project mode,” says Lindiwe Sibanda of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).

“Policy and research must be linked to logical implementation pathways for improved food and nutritional security,” adds Richard Sikora.

Regional agricultural activities have been disconnected from national ones and synchronisation is important. “If we want regional breadbaskets – we must attain the most efficient resource use in a regional context – in other words, grow things in the best places for them,” says Janos Bogárdi.

“Regional co-operation is important to unpack regional best practices. This means structured networking and less duplication,” says Bongiwe Njobe of ZA NAC Consulting.

The participants also emphasised the need to separate land rights and land use. “In other words, looking for innovative models where land tenure/ownership is not a hurdle to development. Where land distribution is justified, it needs to be done in such a manner that productivity, and therefore food and nutritional security, is maintained and secured,” says Richard Sikora.

The results of the roundtable will be circulated amongst participants and the intention is to develop an electronic network. Future steps include think-tanks with experts on the drivers of change and development of intensification strategies that have positive impacts on food and nutrition, and on the environment and human-wellbeing. A further symposium is planned as well as the publication of research results and consultations.

Participants of the Agricultural Transformation Roundtable at STIAS in Stellenbosch. Photo by Anton Jordaan.
Participants of the Agricultural Transformation Roundtable at STIAS in Stellenbosch. Photo by Anton Jordaan.


About the team members of the STIAS project “Sustainable Agro-Ecosystems”

Richard Sikora

Richard A. Sikora is professor emeritus and former head of the soil-ecosystem phytopathology department at the University of Bonn in Germany. He received his PhD in 1970 from the University of Illinois and began his international experience as a USAID-supported visiting assistant professor at G.B. Pant Agricultural University in India. As a faculty member at the University of Bonn, he has maintained an active research and teaching programme in soil pathology, nematology, soil microbiology, and biological control. He has been responsible for leading research on plant protection in the tropics and subtropics and has maintained an active international programme through student research and consultation having worked in over 30 countries on plant health management. Many of his over 150 post-graduate students have worked around the world and have become national leaders. His team’s experience spans countries including: Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Kenya, Cameroon, Niger, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Syria, Egypt, Costa Rica, Tonga, Guatemala, and Brazil. He has authored or co-authored nine books or proceedings, 28 book chapters, and two plant pathology handbooks, presented 28 invited papers at international meetings and published over 270 scientific papers. As consultant and board member to many international organisations and societies, Sikora has provided invaluable leadership in international agriculture. He has also received numerous awards, including being selected as Distinguished Alumni of the University of Illinois, Fellow of two major Scientific Societies and for the International Service Award of the American Phytopathological society for his work in global plant health management.

Janos Bogárdi

Prof. Dr Bogárdi is senior fellow of the Center for Development Research of the University of Bonn and senior advisor of the Global Water Systems Project (GWSP). He was executive officer of the GWSP from 2009 to 2012. Since 2004 he has been professor for water resources management at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Bonn. He served till his retirement as director of the United Nations University (UNU) Institute for Environment and Human Security (2003-2009).

He was Chief of Section in the Division of Water Science in UNESCO, Paris from 1995 to 2003. He was professor of hydrology, hydraulics and quantitative water resources management at the Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands from 1989 to 1995, and associate professor for water resources management at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand from 1985 to 1988. Between 1969 and 1985 he held research and consulting appointments in several countries in Europe and Africa. He graduated as Dipl.-Ing. (Civil engineering) at the University of Technology Budapest in 1969 and holds a doctorate in water resources engineering (Dr.-Ing.) from Karlsruhe University (1979) and three Dr. honoris causa distinctions from universities in Poland, Hungary and Russia.

Eugene Terry

Eugene Terry, currently a Senior Technical Adviser of TransFarm Africa, is a Plant Pathologist by trainingand has held leadership positions in international institutions including that of first Director General of the West Africa Rice Development Association, Cote D’Ivoire, Plant Pathologist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan Nigeria, Land and Crops Advisor in the Agriculture and Rural Development Department of the World Bank, and the Founding Director of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, Kenya. Terry holds a BSc in agriculture, an MSc in plant pathology from McGill University, Montreal, and a PhD in plant pathology from the University of Illinois. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Development, and chairs the Advisory Board of the West African Centre for Crop Improvement, University of Ghana.

Lucas Gakale

Dr Lucas Gakale is a citizen of Botswana. He received his PhD degree in Agronomy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1986. He started his professional career in the Ministry of Agriculture in 1976 as a researcher, culminating as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry in 1999. He also served in the same capacity in the Ministries of Works, Transport and Communications and the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism between 2001 and 2008. Between 1988 and 1998, Dr Gakale served as Director of Agricultural Research, Botswana and served as Chairman of the Southern African Centre for Agricultural Research and Training (SACCAR) responsible for co-ordinating the regional agricultural research programme. He also served on the Board of the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Centre (AVRDC), Taiwan from 1992 to 1998 and was a member of the Executive Committee of the Special Program for African Agricultural Research (SPAAR) at the World Bank. He has served on the Boards of a number of state-owned enterprises in Botswana.

Dr Gakale brings to the STIAS project extensive experience in agricultural policy formulation and implementation in Botswana and within SADC as well as professional experience in international agricultural research and development. He is a small dryland farmer and raises beef cattle.

Paul Vlek

Paul Vlek, a world-renowned soil scientist, was born in Amsterdam and studied Agricultural Sciences with a focus on soil science at Wageningen. After completing his PhD at Colorado State University, he worked for the International Fertiliser Development Center first as a research group leader and then as its director in Togo. As a professor at the Georg-August-University Göttingen, he was Director of the Institute of Agronomy in the Tropics, speaker of the Collaborative Research Center and Dean of the Faculty.

In 1998 he moved to the University of Bonn and was a co-founder and long-time director of the Center for Development Research. Among other things, he founded the West African Science Service Center on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use.

Vlek was appointed to the UNESCO chair of Education for Sustainable Development at Urgench State University, Uzbekistan in 2011. In West Africa he set up a climate service centre to help 10 countries cope with climate change.

He was recently awarded the 2014 World Agriculture Prize. The prize is awarded jointly by the Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for the Agricultural and Life Sciences and Nanjing Agriculture University and recognised “Paul Vlek’s remarkable success in developing global collaborative partnerships and being an inspiration to generations of students and researchers in Germany and worldwide.” Special mention is made of the fact that “[an] interdisciplinary research approach has been a hallmark of Paul Vlek’s career working in Africa, Uzbekistan and elsewhere to ensure that research outcomes lead to innovation and adopted new practice.”

Related items:

Working to replenish southern Africa’s food basket 

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